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Smart Communities Initiative: Year Two Brings New Resources to Regional Challenges

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By Nichole Stevens 

After the completion of its pilot year, the Smart Communities Initiative is now coordinating efforts to kick start year-two and a new partnership with the Southeast Tennessee Development District (SETDD), a regional coalition that encompasses 10 counties.

Faculty are embedding many SETDD projects in their courses this year that include a focus on the state’s growing population of seniors, improvements to rural healthcare, water quality improvement, and economic development for local businesses, including a farmer’s market, preliminary architecture design, and master planning for a public resort in Watts Bar, among others.

“We’re certainly excited to have public health involved this year and to work with local communities on aging and rural health needs,” Ellenburg said.

Anthropology, history and architecture students, meanwhile, can look forward to working closely on a historical analysis and interpretive site planning in association with a local Cherokee tribe member for cultural planning and historical commemoration projects. SCI has a broad breadth of range that encompasses multi-disciplinary approaches to engaging in communities and meeting their specific needs.

SETDD_Color_LogoThe collaboration was initiated by SETDD, which drafted 30-40 proposals ideas for UT student projects that met the districts’ local needs. SCI staff then facilitated a match with academic courses with potential to integrate experiential learning with course-based outcomes.

“It is transformative for all involved to be working across real-world issues that span community and university lines,” said Ellenburg.

The University recently adopted a Quality Enhancement Plan for experiential learning as part of its latest reaccreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. ‘Experience Learning’ an approach to education that emphasizes engaged student learning through direct experience and intense reflection to increase knowledge, acquire lifelong learning and problem-solving skills, and elucidate values. Research has shown experiential learning increases the quality and depth of academic study and makes learning more enjoyable and fulfilling for both students and teachers.

Through dozens of collaborative projects, SETDD will be working closely with hundreds of UT students enrolled in SCI courses for the new academic year. Likewise, those students and faculty involved in SCI year-two will have the opportunity to work with hundreds stakeholders, ranging from municipal and county government to local business owners and citizens.

“This program is beneficial to the students, faculty and community partners and we feel like we have been able to make a real impact,” Ellenburg said. “There’s just so much to share.”


The Smart Communities Initiative was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.